Posted by: Richard | March 22, 2010

Thames Path: Day 1

After a gruelling semester at LBS, my wife and I were eager to get outside and get a nice walk in.  Although many people think that London is a giant urban city, it is actually one of the greatest cities for a walk, with abundant trails and parks in the city.  Adding to the nice walking in London, smart planners limited development on a ring of farmland surrounding London, meaning that a 30 minute train ride has a walker in the idyllic countryside with country pubs, farms and friendly locals.

With the countryside still a bit muddy, we started the Thames Path, a path I have walked parts of, but never completely.  The Thames Path is a 180 mile walk from the Thames Barrier to the source of the Thames, far inland.

Due to the work being done on the Tube and DLR, we added about 5 miles to the first day of walking, starting in Limehouse!  We picked up our friend Eric at his flat near Limehouse and proceeded to Canary Wharf, where we got really good coffee in an Italian coffee shop staffed by Italians.  A good start.  We walked through Canary Wharf, with Eric (a former Calgarian) comparing it to Calgary.  An apt description for a bit of a surreal place.

We walked down the Isle of Dogs, through Millwall, home to what I have been told are the most rabid football hooligans in England.  We didn’t see any hooligans, but we were surprised by the number of 20-somethings still dressed in their finest from the night before smoking on street corners and on patios (it was 10am).  As we passed one young lady in a short mini-skirt, she was yelling into her cell phone about how boring the guys she was with were.  A more expletive-laden outburst I haven’t often heard.  It was a bit strange as the guys were right beside her, smoking to beat the bands and unconcerned with the woman’s constructive criticism of their personalities…..We moved quickly and I decided to keep my camera in my satchel.

We finally got to the tip of the Isle of Dogs, and walked under the Thames through the Greenwich tunnel.  Nothing special.  Coming up the other side, I had forgotten that The Cutty Sark had burned a few years previously.  I had toured it in 2000 and enjoyed the tour.  Hopefully the restoration goes well.  As the rest of the walk to the Thames Barrier is through industrial estates, we hopped on the 180 and had a 10 minute bus-ride to get us near the start of the walk.  We once again experienced the ingratiating friendliness of East London on our bus ride, as expletives cascaded down from a heavy-set old man who was dissatisfied with how long it was taken a woman to get on the bus.  The fat old man calmed down once the bus started moving, but I was getting a distinct impression of East London not being the gentile community I had read about in Dickens.

Arriving at the Thames Barrier, I was happy.  I have long loved the barrier, as it is truly beautiful to see first-hand.  After snapping 20 or so photos, we continued on the proper Thames Path.  This section of the walk is along the river and through an assortment of junk yards, industrial estates and vacant land.  My wife (much more observant than I) noticed the number of shopping carts in the mudflats on the Thames.  We wondered how many we would see on the walk, but gave up counting after counting 15 in our immediate eye-sight.

As we approached the Millenium Dome (a £500 million boondoggle for the government), the path begin a series of diversions that would keep us from the Thames.  There is a lot of work going on in this part of the Thames, and it seemed every one section on the Thames was contrasted with two or three diversions onto major roadways or other streets nearby.  An interesting view of a different part of London, but definitely not the Thames path we expected.

Coasting into the midway point of Greenwich, we decided to have lunch at the Trafalgar, a fine old pub with lovely views over the Thames.  A colleague of mine had his wedding here in 2001 and it is still an excellent place to relax after 4 hours of walking.  We ate very average pub food (unexpected) and didn’t dawdle as we were eager to get back en route.

The next 90 minutes of the walk were in and out of walkways on the Thames and frequent diversions onto residential streets.  This is not a highlight of the walk, and thankfully we were blessed witty repartee and were not bored by the lack of excitement in the walk.  One notable bit of excitement came out of the blue when we stumbled on a hobby  farm en route.  We stopped to look at the piglets and wave to the turkeys (an uglier bird I haven’t seen).  We quickly resumed our walk, as we were eager to get home to a nice dinner.

The last 500m of todays walk was incredible.  Approaching Tower Bridge, life springs to the path with restaurants, shops and tourists snapping photos of Tower Bridge, with the Tower and Gherkin behind.  This is a grand finale of the walk, and a good end to the day.  We had sunburned faces and tired bodies from our first outing of the year!  Though the walk was average, it was so nice to get out for a walk, have some sun and see a new part of London that we were pleased and tired on the bus ride home.

Here is the route we took: Thames Path Day 1 Route

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